Busting Urban Planning Myths

urban

There’s a lot of misconceptions about how to make cities a better place to live that need to be cleared up. A popular belief is that adding more lanes for cars will help curb traffic jams – when the opposite it true. Some backwards-looking individuals think that adding bike lanes is bad for business when multiple studies have proven otherwise. These myths have bothered a columnist over at Metro paper enough that they wrote an article focussed on busting these urban planning myths that hold back better cities.

A common political argument is that bike and transit riders should “pay their own way.” A study in Vancouver however suggested that for every dollar we individually spend on walking, society pays just 1 cent. For biking, it’s eight cents, and for bus-riding, $1.50. But for every personal dollar spent driving, society pays a whopping $9.20! Such math makes clear where the big subsidies are, without even starting to count the broader environmental, economic, spatial and quality-of-life consequences of our movement choices. The less people need to drive in our cities, the less we all pay, in more ways than one.

Want more examples? There’s math showing that replacing on-street parking with safe, separated bike-lanes is good for street-fronting businesses. That crime goes down as density goes up. That providing housing for the homeless actually saves public money. That you can move more people on a street when car lanes are replaced by well-designed space for walking, biking and transit.

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Harvest Energy From Everyday Activities

Some gyms are capturing the energy created by users to power the TVs in the buildings. But what if we capture energy from our movements throughout the day? That’s what one designer asked and she set out to examine what the future of wearable energy capture would look like.

Of course, her motivation came from the gym.

“I used to run at the treadmill at the gym, and I saw all these people running on belts,” Ahola says. “It didn’t really make sense to me that we were expending all this energy, but treadmills were consuming all this energy at the same time. So I started delving into the potential of energy harvesting.”

One of Ahola’s most intriguing concepts looked at turning fitness trackers into fitness harvesters. What if, instead of measuring progress by calories burned or steps taken, we measured our fitness in joules, the basic units of energy captured? If we attached energy harvesters to our running sneakers—or bikes—we could then deposit the energy collected from them at terminals Ahola calls “harvest hotspots.”

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Doctors Say Healthy People Come From Good Urban Design

A new report written by a handful of doctors titled Improving Health Care by Design concludes that in order to have a healthy populace we need cities designed for health. There is nothing startling in the report but it does provide one more reference and tool for people to use inspire positive change in their own communities.

The results: if we want healthy people, we need to build healthy communities. This means, the doctors suggest, that our communities need to made more conducive to walking, cycling, and public transit. The report concludes with calls for “major changes” in community design across the GTHA.

These are not perhaps particularly novel observations, few would argue that more opportunities for physical activity leads to better overall health. But the report, written as it was by doctors, adds leverage to these ideas by attempting to quantify more specifically, the health effects of good community planning.

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A Scientific Approach to Better Urban Design

Urban design is not an easy activity because of the multitude of variables that impact the overall urban experience. There are buildings, traffic (foot and vehicular), landmarks, natural occurrences like rivers, and abstracted economic forces. Space Syntax is a company has set out to make better urban design by using science to calculate the probability of positive spaces being built.

Stonor says his ultimate goal is for the science to catch on with other design firms and consultancies. In a way, he wants to put himself out of business. He says he wants architects and planners to learn to use space syntax themselves, and not rely so much on his consultancy.

Academically, space syntax has caught on in many other schools and countries. However, the Bartlett at University College of London – where Hillier and Hanson developed the science – is still its primary research center. The academic and business sides work closely, a relationship that Stonor says is vital. The academics feed him new ideas, and his company field-tests their research. In addition, every tool and most of the studies produced by both the business and academic sides of Space Syntax are open access and available online.

Read more at Wired’s Map Lab.

Here’s an example of one their reports:

Space Syntax_Informal Settlements Brochure

Ideas to Get Consumers to Buy Sustainable Products

Every year more sustainably produced products hit store shelves yet consumer uptake on these products isn’t as strong as it should be. Sure, there are increasing sales overall but the amount of people who are buying environmentally-concious products isn’t increasing at a fast enough rate.Over at Fast CoExist a writer proposes six ways to convince consumers to buy greener products.

5: SHOW, DON’T TELL

It’s unreasonable to assume that consumers will translate sustainable attributes into benefits that matter to them. More marketers need to visibly demonstrate how green products make a real difference to people’s lives. For instance, at Plum Organics, the packaging does the talking. Not only does it contain some of the healthiest baby food available, but its stand-up pouch, secure spout and rounded edges give parents a safer and more convenient “self-serve” option, while kids get more control over their eating experience. Benefits like these drive repeat business. You can’t say that about a glass jar.

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